What is psychological abuse?

Psychological abuse is a type of abuse that involves subjecting people to pain and distress in an emotional, rather than physical, way. In cases of extreme psychological abuse, the stress created by the abuse can actually lead to the manifestation of physical symptoms of abuse ranging from loss of appetite to self-destructive behavior. Identifying and addressing this form of abuse can be challenging because it can take many forms and depends very much on the nature of the people involved.

Psychological abuse often occurs within the dynamics of an existing unhealthy relationship, and the abuser may also engage in physical abuse. It can occur in caregiver situations, such as those involving parents and children and caregivers and older or disabled adults, as well as in intimate relationships. It also shows up at school and in the workplace in the form of bullying and harassment, and can often be seen in situations where there are unequal power dynamics.

There are many forms of psychological abuse. It can include harassment, infantilization, threats, intimidation, isolation, control, and attempts to belittle the victim. Verbal and non-verbal means can be used to perpetrate abuse, ranging from yelling or yelling at someone to creating physical isolation by refusing to touch the victim and isolating them from friends and family.

Victims of psychological abuse may develop a number of symptoms including behavioral changes, stress, unhappiness, or emotional distress. Some can be abusive, as seen when children experience damaging emotional dynamics at home and become bullies on the playground. A cycle of abuse and emotional violence can be created, with people being abused and turning against others. This type of abuse can also escalate and become physical in nature and can be accompanied by neglect and other forms of abuse.

For people involved in abusive relationships, such as members of the police, counselors, and teachers, identifying psychological abuse requires being highly perceptive and taking small signs seriously. It is important to look for patterns of behavior and changes in the way someone behaves around other people, as well as interacting directly with the victim and using carefully worded questions to gather information about the situation. People in abusive relationships are sometimes reluctant to seek help or report abuse because they fear retaliation. As a result, simply asking if someone needs help is often not enough, as initial offers of assistance may be refused.

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